Monthly Archives: December 2004

lux et libertas


Chapel Hill, NC

Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can’t go home again,” and he should know: he used to live in Chapel Hill. Really, the only way to deal with this place is to have a sense of Infinite Elasticity, to look upon the town as a living organism that sheds its limbs – even useful ones – en route to its future.

This town forgets you the minute you leave, like a lover that has moved on to another boyfriend. “What about all the good times?” you plead, “What about doing Dead Nazi shots at Molly Maguire’s and flirting with Kelly McElheny on the 6th floor of the Graduate Library?” And the town pauses briefly and asks, “What was your name again?”

Why people continue to have businesses on Franklin Street elude me. Besides Sutton’s Drug Store (1924), Pepper’s Pizza, Ye Olde Waffle House and the various places that sell Tar Heel paraphernalia, every other vendor totters on the precipice of extinction. Shit, even the Gap couldn’t make it here. They should have taken a cue from Schoolkids Records (still extant) and changed their seasons more rapidly.

One such storefront housed my favorite place in Chapel Hill: Barrel of Fun, the arcade with everything, including Chiller (Jon Vaden’s fave), the Cyclone pinball machine, and even Track & Field. Being a pianist, nobody could beat me at Track & Field, and I was pretty fucking good at Paperboy as well.

Of course, the bottom fell out of that market (like it does for everything except razors) and it was replaced with a rapid succession of unworthy stores, none lasting for more than a semester, it seemed. Then the coffee craze hit Chapel Hill with the same caffeine-induced mania it hit every other college town, and the property became Judges (an upscale coffee joint), replaced by The Roastery (an upscale coffee joint) and is now being replaced by Jack Sprat (an upscale coffee joint).

Which leads most scientific-minded souls to wonder what Jack Sprat will have to offer that Judges and The Roastery didn’t (macadamia nut syrup?), but us long-timers know it’s just a matter of time before it’s replaced by Dante’s Lattés (an upscale coffee joint), followed by The Frothery (an upscale coffee joint) and Uncle Fuckwad’s Cock Palace (an upscale coffee joint).

O, when will these merchants learn? The only places that will stay on Franklin Street is the post office and the Starbucks. Everything else will drift off into the ether, replaced by places that sell wraps, or smoothies, or juiceries, or trinkets or muffins. And these, too, will pass as quickly as they come.

You can’t get wistful when recalling your times past in Chapel Hill, or else you will be backed over by the Nostalgia Dumptruck. Nothing will ever stay the same. Trees fall, friends are long gone, and if you don’t make some new memories, your old one will start to smell bad. Remain pliable, as it is your only defense in the fickle world of your best recollections.


Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC – circa 1890

i got you, Babe



This is non-tampered, photographic evidence that there are people who will buy and eat pickled pigs lips. I know this because there is a jar, packed by the innocuously dangerous-sounding company “Farm Fresh Food Supplies,” which was more than half-empty, signifying that various customers at our rest stop in Alabama have purchased and enjoyed this product.

I know they “purchased” it, because the price is clearly marked: $1.69, I assume, for a pair. There is also a set of tongs nearby, allowing you to access your pig’s lips without threat of sticking your hand inside.

I’ve heard of pickled pig’s feet, pig’s knuckles, and the other detritus of the porcine body politic; I’ve been taught that truckers, predominantly of an elder generation, will suck on these body parts as they traverse our country. Yes, I find this disgusting, but I can get behind it as no more repellent than the acquisition of most meat in general.

But sucking on the lips of the pig for hours as you drive? Having your lips attached to those of a long dead – and, I’m told, stunningly smart – animal is a piece of macabre poetry that I didn’t know existed. This is why it is important to get out of your house, to take long trips in the wilderness, and to consort, even briefly, with those ideas that would induce waves of horror in the small intellectual circles you call your own.

I am, I believe, a little bit wiser for the experience.

assume the dealer has a ten


As if the paucity of quality posts from yours truly hasn’t been obvious, I was going to take this holiday period off from blogging so’s I can get across the country and actually fall asleep in various motels, rather than try and furiously connect over a shitty landline to Earthlink’s multitudinous numbers. I have documented several of my other such trips, and frankly, that’s a lot of effort (and a lot of pictures of America’s worst toilets).

But I just have to say I’m in New Orleans again tonight, and wandered through some sketchy neighborhoods over to Harrah’s, site of some of the most fun we had at my bachelor party – although I lost more than $150 in less than ten minutes that sweltering July night.

Tonight, I walked in the door with two objectives: I would spend no more than $100 and leave with my dignity intact. First off, at the $15 Blackjack table, I had a series of very lucky hands (hitting at 14 and getting a 7, etc.) and accidentally won $100 in about 15 minutes. This seemed like a nice round figure, so I walked away, and on to the video poker, which is my semi-addiction, even on the Mac.

I put in $20, and on my seventh hand, I drew four tens. That’s right, the much-coveted 4 of a kind. Not expecting to win anything, I began to get nervous when the credits started piling into the stratosphere. Instantly, I cashed out, still not knowing how much I had (you only get a slip of paper, and I didn’t look).

I handed the cashier both the chips and the slot of paper, and she gave me back $587. Five hundred and eighty-seven dollars. I have never won a DIME while gambling, and in 45 minutes, I have paid for this road trip.

And the weird thing? We always joke about it, that little mantra you say before you roll the dice, but I think my little peanut is bringing me good luck. Things are going my way because it turns out that baby actually does need shoes.

to you and you and you



New Orleans, 1885

We made it to New Orleans tonight, and off to Texas tomorrow. It’s the coldest day in two years here, with a possibility of a white Christmas in the French Quarter. Jesus.

Speaking of whom, everyone have a terrific, fabulous holiday. Yay for Christmas! I hope I get that orange Huffy 10-speed with foam handlebar tape!

how droll it would have been


Oh, how I would like to entertain you, fair readers. Sure, there’d be trenchant witticisms, fleeting persiflage of pique, effervescent bon mots spilling down the page. Oh, the political commentary, the cutting observations on popular culture, the well-baked theorems on cosmology. Oh, how we would have laughed!!!

But it’s 5:05am and I’m in a hotel room outside Fort AP Hill, Virginia.

Perhaps a commenter can fill in something delightful while I try to drive to Texas in 30 hours straight?

the littlest state



Nobody told me about the whole WASP blue-blood Newport, Rhode Island thing, so when I first saw the mansions, I thought I’d stumbled upon the movie set for a Fitzgerald novel. Apparently this is a huge summer destination for those dear old-money families from Philadelphia, Boston, New York and everywhere else that had a nice lockjaw accent.

It was Betty Blake’s Christmas party, and I left my camera in the car, but it was a grand affair. Betty is (Tessa’s father) Blakey’s third wife, which, if you’ve seen Five Wives on DVD, won’t seem that strange to you. Since his death, the surviving brothers and sisters get together to commiserate on their ordeal, and it’s satisfying for me – a true outsider – to relish how much they gravitate to each other now that his outsized shadow is no longer stretched over them.

Getting to Newport was another thing, however. My present to Tessa, shipped via USPS because I no longer trust Fedex as far as I can throw one of their trucks, was lost in transit on the way to Texas. How was it lost, you might ask? It was burned on one of the Fedex planes. Yes, turns out the U.S. Postal Service uses Fedex to ship things. It’s like being stuck in an M.C. Escher painting.

Oh, and we hit the divider in the highway and lacerated our tire so badly that even Fix-a-Flat

lovely dark and deep


I’ve never canceled a blog due to inclement weather, but as I write this, it is (-2) degrees Fahrenheit mere inches from my head. With the wind chill factored in, up here at the farm, we’re dealing with 20 below zero.


outside temp at the bottom

Now, my li’l farmhouse can do many things. We have a foosball table. We even have DSL and a satellite TV that gets all the Heels games. It was built in 1818 and has rocked for nearly two centuries. But at negative-20 degrees it tells us all to fuck off, and just can’t get warm enough.

Tessa and I sleep in the back, in the part of the farm that used to be the carriage house and two-seater outhouse. It was connected at some point in the 1860s to the main house because its owner, George W. Burton, was sick of going to poop in minus-20 degree weather. But we are still far away from the main heating source, and occasionally, I can see Tessa’s breath while she sleeps (very cute, if’n you ask me).

This is the longest night of the year, the night when Robert Frost contemplated suicide in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Homeless people all over New York City are staring at death. Tonight brings you the polar extreme of what you’re up against, as a human animal, and it tries to keep you honest.

There is a liminal of ten inches between my bedroom and the violent, bone-breakingly cold howls outside. I come from pioneers that fought their entire lives to stay on the living end of that ten inches, and occasionally I wonder how I might have fared.

Tonight, I walked out into the farmland, seeing how much I could take, while the cruel stars of Orion bled overhead. There is something so horrifying as to be life-affirming when you get that first blast of minus-20 in your face, and if you can stand it a few more seconds, it makes the other things in your life seem more possible.

This is the darkest evening of the year, and the days only get longer and slide into a languid, sexy haze from here on out.

oh, that “stupid feeling”


Park Slope has fewer coffee places than you might expect; shit, Chapel Hill had FIVE on Franklin Street alone for a while, and its population is about .06% that of Brooklyn. Thus, the few here are furiously well-attended, and one in particular serves the coffee needs of hundreds of high school kids, lesbian hipsters and lactating mothers each day.

As an aside: why didn’t I discover coffee in high school? I might have stayed awake during Mr. Harvey’s calculus class. Also, why did I always think Ben-Gay was for senior citizens? That shit totally works, and would have made the year 2000 so much less pain-free. Tessa and her best friend Jason call that “contempt prior to investigation,” which is how I lived until quite recently.

ANYWAY. So I go to this usual coffee haunt, which is usually staffed by your typical can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this barista with tattoos and hair that took effort. One such guy is locally known as an aging beat poet, and always spiced up the line with loud anecdotes and funny little riffs.

Today, I walked in while he was being fired, and suddenly, he went from being everyone’s favorite cashier to an utter pariah in a matter of seconds. It didn’t help that he freaked out on the whole place, screaming, making mothers grab their kids, but it brought up the interesting point that all social interactions are basically binary equations.

That is, you’re either in our you’re out. There is a line you cross, invisible but obvious, when the “merely eccentric” become “creepy motherfuckers.” In the dating world, it’s the fine line between being persistent and getting a restraining order. And here’s the catch: the ones who shine the brightest, the ones who separate themselves out from the crowd, they’re always the first to go.

Now, I’m never one to defend these people. I hate being made socially uncomfortable SO MUCH that I’d gladly take a bus to Cleveland than being subjected to someone acting out some bullshit in public. On the subway, when someone starts shouting out their busking crap and stopping all conversation, I want to fucking stick a fork in my neck.

But today, as he was in the purgatory between the cashier and the “public space,” about to have the cops called on him (on HIM, the guy who usually CALLS THE SHOTS!), I decided to act like any other New Yorker and proudly ordered my triple soy latté with a large shot of caramel, thank you very much.

He looked me right in the eye, and I looked back, something I rarely do, as if to say, “dude, you gotta know when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em.”


at a Park Slope coffee jernt last summer: Michelle is inside on the tangerine iBook, Tessa is on bench, and I’m taking the picture (reflected by glass)